The Milwaukee Bucks will play the NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns after beating the Atlanta Hawks 107-118 on Saturday night and winning the Eastern Conference final 4-2 without the need for their star, Greek Giannis Antetokounmpo. It is the first time since 1974 that the Bucks have reached the NBA Finals.
The game, which in the first half was dominated by the nervousness and imprecision of the two teams, was decided in the third quarter, when Khris Middleton exploded and scored 4 3-pointers and a total of 23 points, which launched the Bucks.
Milwaukee’s team scored a total of 44 points in the third quarter to the Hawks’ 29 and only Middleton had 4 more points than all the Bucks raised in the second quarter.
Hawks star point guard Trae Young, who returned to play after missing the previous two games with an ankle injury, was unable to repeat the performance of other games and push Atlanta to victory. Young scored just 14 points. The game’s top scorer was Khris Middleton, with 32 points, followed by Jrue Holiday, with 27.
The Bucks came out determined to repeat the formula for success from the previous game: a suffocating pressure in defense that allowed to steal balls, force errors and launch attacks with the Hawks out of place.
For the first few minutes the plan worked. The Hawks’ first two attacks ended with the Bucks stealing the ball. In 2 minutes, the Bucks were leading 0-7. The pressure from the Bucks continued to force more errors as Bobby Ports, Jrue Holiday, Krhis Middleton, Brook Lopez and PJ Tucker all scored and made it 4-15.
In just over 2 minutes, the Hawks punished the Bucks with a 12-3 run and came within just 2 points, 16-18. The streak was snapped when Young returned to the bench and the first quarter ended with the Bucks 4 points ahead, 24-28. The second quarter ended in a draw. Both teams scored 19 points and left the score at 43-47, 4 points up for the Bucks.
Around the break, Middleton came out toned. The forward scored the first 16 points for the Bucks (including 3 triples) and allowed the Milwaukee to place a partial of 4-16 that took them away on the scoreboard, 47-63.
Middleton’s display woke up his team. Holiday and Lopez took over from the forward with new triples. This time the Bucks did not repeat the errors of the first half and maintained discipline in attack which allowed them to take off on the scoreboard. The third quarter ended in 72-91, 19 points, the maximum advantage of the 36 minutes played up to that moment.
In the fourth quarter, the Hawks found relief in triples from Danilo Gallinari, Kevin Huerter and Reddish. With 5 minutes to go, Atlanta’s men cut the distance to 10 points, 97-107. The Bucks were starting to feel the pressure from Atlanta’s State Farm Arena but the Hawks were running out of time.
With two minutes to go, the difference was 8 points, 103-111. But that was the maximum the Hawks could achieve. With 40 seconds remaining and with 107-118 on the scoreboard, McMillan threw in the towel and took the headlines off the track.